From a subtle thought of how simple technologies could be deployed to solve complex problems, the chairman of technology-based solution service provider, Contec Global Group, Dr. Benoy Berry, has birthed series of innovations that have solved challenges bordering on security, food, energy, and information technology across Africa, Asia and Europe. In this interview with Olaseni Durojaiye, Berry says Nigeria can enhance food production and revolutionise agricultural through effective adoption and deployment of smart technologies. Excerpts:
ou were recently honoured by the Nigerian Union of Journalists for Outstanding Achievement In Food Security. What does this award mean to you?
The recognition of the Most Outstanding Achievement in Food Security (2016) by the Nigerian Union of Journalists remains one that I will continue to cherish. NUJ, as you are aware, remains one of the most important professional bodies in Nigeria. A recognition from them is an apparent endorsement of the kind of services that we have been providing to Nigerians. Beyond the good feeling of being so recognised, it has also become an additional measuring mark for us at Contec to do more, as it is often said, when you are rewarded for hard work, it means you should be prepared to do more. We are spurred to do more.
We are even more committed through this award to be the largest agriculture group globally to provide earth friendly, commercially viable solutions to agriculture using latest technologies, non-toxic and biodegradable and eco-friendly ingredients.
How would you assess Nigeria’s preparedness for food security?
I believe with proper deployment of smart technologies, hunger could become extinct in Nigeria. That said, from various sources, Nigeria’s population is expected to increase to about 450 million by the year 2030. This and similar statistics are not to be taken for granted. On one hand, this is an advantage especially that the young people make up the greater proportion of the population. It presents a huge opportunity for growth, creativity and adaptability to trends that could turn things around for good in Nigeria.
However, the rapid population growth could put serious pressure on the food supply nationwide. With this in mind, all stakeholders must realise the urgent need to institute aggressive strategies for increased and sustainable food production and supply across to the people within a relatively short period of time to meet the demand for the growing population. Nigeria is not alone in this, as food crisis may occur if adequate preparation is not made to feed the over 9.5 billion people globally being the projected population of humans by 2050. Nigeria is also witnessing a technology revolution that could help in this regard.
There are several agro companies in the country, many of them claiming to be working to ensure food security for the nation’s populace and boost foreign exchange generation through export. What is Contec Global Agro doing differently?
I am proud to say that Contec Global Agro Limited (CGAL) is Nigeria’s first ever agro company that has been set up with strict adherence to eco-friendly approach. We are currently using innovative organically beneficial micro-organisms and bio-resources plant based molecules devoid of chemicals for seed, plant health and reclamation of the soil that has been degraded over the years with the application of chemicals. Like I have said severally, if hunger is to be banished from the country, we must go into organic farming. That is where to start from and that is why we are investing billions into the sector to address hunger, malnutrition and found security.
What is your level of investment in the country and what has been the result of such investment?
Through series of diligent research and development of initiatives, techniques and products backed by the deployment of smart-bio-solutions, like bio-herbicides and bio-pesticides that are wholly organic in nature, we have been able to solve some of the challenges of agriculture in Nigeria. It is on record that our researchers and experts played a lead role, for example, in checking the tuta absoluta outbreak (tomato ebola) which threatened to deplete the tomato crop across the country. We hear the disease is back in Nigeria. We are glad to announce that there is no need to worry, as we have proven antidote to the disease.
Also, it is known that most soils across the country are depleted due to continuous use of chemicals. We have produced sustainable solutions to Nigeria’s soil problems.
We are embarking on series of technology-driven initiatives that will help in eradicating hunger in the times ahead. To achieve our goal we have designed a sustainable template to increase crop productivity through production of only organic inputs by farmers. From our world class agric research laboratories in Maitama District, Abuja, we have started producing bio fertilisers, bio stimulants, soil conditioners, bio pesticides and plant hydrogel that have become the farmers’ first choice. We are glad with the results we are getting from the fields. The farmers are getting as much as thrice or even more harvest values from using these products as against what they had been using.
Nigeria spends billions of foreign exchange on food importation. How is Contec Group planning to change the narrative?
As a stakeholder in the sector, we are never happy each time the figures are reeled out. In our own little way, we are set on delivering unique, natural products that improves crop yield and quality while protecting the soil from harmful effects of chemical based agriculture. This way, we may have solved some major problems that are contributing to the country’s high food import bill.
Gladly, the narrative is changing already. From our fields across every state of the federation where we are working, we have lots of evidence to show that farmers’ yields have increased by over 200 per cent using the various organic inputs developed by our company. I want to state clearly again that a country without food security is defenceless. Other stakeholders should join CONTEC Agro to make Nigeria food secure.
It is believed that Contec Agro is keeping Nigeria’s best agricultural secret somewhere in Abuja. How true is this?
That is what a lot of people have said. But that secret could only be kept for a little time because the results are soon to manifest. By August this year, we are set to deliver a set of over 1.2 million cuttings of tissue-cultured banana, which will be planted on a 2,000 hectares land between Ibadan and Abeokuta in south-western part of the country. This will make the area a potential banana hub and a comfortable beneficiary of the massive international banana market.
What motivated you to embark on large scale multi-sectoral investments in Nigeria?
Over time, we have seen the glaring challenges that have created gaps in major operations in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Conversely, we saw that the solutions are not far-fetched, especially in the developing countries. So we decided to diversify into the energy, financial technology, agro, telecommunication and hospitality fields. We are convinced that through the development and deployment of state-of-the-art, technology-driven solutions that are run on an accountable system solutions across various sectors, we can bridge the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria and other countries in Africa through our numerous partnerships.
We have received several commendations for venturing into innovations. These include the Nation Builder Award and the African Order of Merit Award on e-Governance and Biometrics Technology, as bestowed on to us by the Institute for Governance Research and Leadership Technology, among others.
Many people have described the investment climate in Nigeria as extremely hostile. What has been your experience?
We have been able to navigating the challenges of potential public and private sector bureaucracy, and other challenges with the right management and a personally diverse academic background. I must say that Contec has the right mix of staff that has upheld a tradition that promotes excellence in all that we do. We are undeterred because we know the best comes out of a people and systems during challenging times. Nigeria is only passing through an interesting phase that will turn out very well in the long run. All that is needed is smart thinking backed by smart technology.
What impact would you say Nigeria has made on you?
Nigeria has made a huge impact on me. For your information, I am Nigerian. I have spent most of my best times here. My family cherishes the ambiance the country gives to them.
How would you describe the journey of your life so far?
I was born to one of the most wonderful parents I could ever think of. You may say no one says otherwise of their parents. While some people would say their father gave them the best life could bring in terms of education, good life training and others, I make bold to say that my own parents taught me how to maintain my cool in humility. This is what I have and will continue to imbibe. I studied at the University of Delhi in India, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours in Economics. After this, I thought I needed to know more, so I enrolled for and obtained a Masters of Arts in Finance from the University of Delhi’s School of Economics. One of the high-points of my study period there was to be accorded a place on their Roll of Honours merit list.
I wanted more, so I went for a Doctorate, which I obtained from World Open University, where I studied Communications and Arts.
After acquiring formal education, I worked in the investment banking and marketing industries before venturing out on my own to establish Continental Transfert Technique Limited and became its Chairman (Contec Global Group) in 1984, with offices in four different continents around the world.
What would you say prepared you to navigate through the challenges of life and circumstances that have taken you to this level?
One thing I understood during my formative years was the power of effective articulation. I was able to ascertain early in life that this could guide me appropriately in many of the things I had proposed to do, including brokerage of agreements and nurturing of innovations, especially in challenging climates. This is the reason I still went ahead to invest in acquisition of knowledge through education.